Donations, research grants helped fund Moderna vaccine


More promising news on the vaccine front: Moderna says its vaccine provides strong protection against COVID-19. Monday’s announcement comes a week after a competitor, Pfizer, revealed its own vaccine to be similarly effective. (Nov. 16)

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The claim: Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was paid in full by taxpayers

Social Security Works, a nonprofit organization committed to defending the Social Security program, posted a graphic on Facebook on Nov. 17, claiming, “taxpayers paid for 100% of the Moderna vaccine development,” which the post says totaled $2.5 billion. 

The post was shared more than 550 times and received nearly 300 comments. Some commenters credited Dolly Parton with donating $1 million that helped the vaccine development, a story that trended on social media in late November after the country music icon’s COVID-19 research fund was included on a list of supporters for the vaccine in The New England Journal of Medicine. 

Social Security Works spokesperson Linda Benesch wrote in an email that the primary source for the claim was a tweet by Public Citizen, a nonprofit progressive think tank. Benesch also credited a story by Axios in which the pharmaceutical company was quoted saying federal money makes up “100% funding of the program.”

How much did the government give?

Several government entities, private universities and donors contributed to the development of the Moderna Therapeutics vaccine, according to the New England Journal of Medicine report. 

The report acknowledged the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which are two of the centers that make up the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fact check: Vaccine recommendations don’t link government aid to immunization

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, also invested heavily in the vaccine’s development, staff of Harvard’s Petrie-Flom Center found. 

“Such agreements are not unusual for government agencies in general or the NIH in particular,” the Harvard story read. All in all, U.S. agencies committed about $2.5 billion to help develop Moderna’s vaccine and buy doses, according to the New York Times. 

In a Moderna news release from July 26, the company said it received approximately $955 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and phase 3 of the vaccine study would be conducted in collaboration with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

The Department of Health and Human Services and Moderna both told Axios the two parties agree to what is in news releases when it comes to federal government funding and other support provided to advance the vaccine.

Fact check: Dolly Parton helped fund Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine research

What about other contributors?

The New England Journal of Medicine recognized support from Emory University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund and other organizations in the development of the Moderna vaccine, which trials shows is 94.5% effective.

Parton mentioned her million-dollar donation and involvement in creating a COVID-19 vaccine in tweets on Aug. 1 and Nov. 17

Vanderbilt researchers were “giddy” about the Moderna news after participating in the vaccine research, Director of Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program Dr. Buddy Creech told television station WTVF. 

Our rating: Partly False

Although government entities gave Moderna about $2.5 billion for the development of the company’s vaccine and to purchase doses, taxpayers did not pay 100% of the costs. Instead, the vaccine was funded by a combination of government spending, private donations and research grants. Based on our research, we rate the claim PARTLY FALSE.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Social Security Works, Nov. 17, Facebook post
  • Public Citizen, No. 16, Tweet
  • Axios, Aug. 5, Moderna skirts disclosures of coronavirus vaccine costs
  • Moderna, Jul 26, Moderna Announces Expansion of BARDA Agreement to Support Larger Phase 3 Program for Vaccine (mRNA-1273) Against COVID-19
  • The New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 12, An mRNA Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 — Preliminary Report
  • Knoxville News Sentinel, Nov. 17, Dolly Parton helped fund 95% effective Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that could end pandemic
  • New York Times, Nov. 16, Early Data Show Moderna’s Coronavirus Vaccine Is 94.5% Effective
  • Harvard Law Petrie-Flom Center, Aug. 27, How Does Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Work, and Who Is Funding Its Development?
  • Dolly Parton, Aug. 1, Tweet
  • Dolly Parton, Nov. 17, Tweet
  • WTVF, Nov. 16, Vanderbilt researchers thrilled over Moderna vaccine success

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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